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EAGLE EYE
09-10-2010, 12:03 AM
Clive Thompson on Why We Should Learn the Language of Data



By Clive Thompson http://www.wired.com/magazine/wp-content/themes/wired/images/envelope.gif (clive@clivethompson.net)
April 19, 2010 |
12:00 pm |


http://www.wired.com/magazine/wp-content/images/18-05/st_thompson_statistics_f.jpg

Illustration: Ellen Lupton

How can global warming be real when thereís so much snow?Ē
Hearing that question ó repeatedly ó this past February drove Joseph Romm (http://www.americanprogress.org/experts/RommJoseph.html) nuts. A massive snowstorm had buried Washington, DC, and all across the capital, politicians and pundits who dispute the existence of climate change were cackling. The family of Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe built an igloo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA-Zcp_rLoc) near the Capitol and put up a sign reading ďAl Goreís New Homeď. The planet canít be warming, they said; look at all this white stuff!
Romm ó a physicist and climate expert with the Center for American Progress ó spent a week explaining to reporters why this line of reasoning is so wrong. Climate change, he said, is all about trend lines. You donít observe it by looking out the window but by analyzing decadesí worth of data. Of course, snowstorm spin is possible only if the public (and journalists) are statistically illiterate. ďA lot of this is counterintuitive,Ē Romm admits.
Statistics is hard. But thatís not just an issue of individual understanding; itís also becoming one of the nationís biggest political problems. We live in a world where the thorniest policy issues increasingly boil down to arguments over what the data mean. If you donít understand statistics, you donít know whatís going on ó and you canít tell when youíre being lied to. Statistics should now be a core part of general education. You shouldnít finish high school without understanding it reasonably well ó as well, say, as you can compose an essay.
Consider the economy: Is it improving or not? Thatís a statistical question. You canít actually measure the entire economy, so analysts sample chunks of it ó they take a slice here and a slice there and try to piece together a representative story. One metric thatís frequently touted is same-store sales growth, a comparison of how much each store in a big retail chain is selling compared with a year ago. Itís been trending upward, which has financial pundits excited (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1545a89c-436e-11df-833f-00144feab49a.html).
Problem is, to calculate that stat, economists remove stores that have closed from their sample. As New York University statistician Kaiser Fung points out, that makes the chains look healthier than they might really be. Does this methodological issue matter? Absolutely: When politicians see economic numbers pointing upward, theyíre less inclined to fund stimulus programs.
Or take the raging debate over childhood vaccination, where well-intentioned parents have drawn disastrous conclusions from anecdotal information. Activists propagate horror stories of children who seemed fine one day, got vaccinated, and then developed autism. Of course, as anyone with any exposure to statistics knows, correlation is not causation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation). And individual stories donít prove anything; when you examine data on the millions of vaccinated kids, even the correlation vanishes.
There are oodles of other examples of how our inability to grasp statistics ó and the mother of it all, probability ó makes us believe stupid things. Gamblers think their number is more likely to come up this time because it didnít come up last time. Political polls are touted by the media even when their samples are laughably skewed. (This issue breaks left and right, by the way. Intellectually serious skeptics of anthropogenic climate change argue that the statistical case is weak ó that Al Gore and his fellow travelers employ dubious techniques to sample and crunch global temperatures.)
Granted, thinking statistically is tricky. We like to construct simple cause-and-effect stories to explain the world as we experience it. ďYou need to train in this way of thinking. Itís not easy,Ē says John Allen Paulos, a Temple University mathematician.
Thatís precisely the point. We often say, rightly, that literacy is crucial to public life: If you canít write, you canít think. The same is now true in math. Statistics is the new grammar.

EAGLE EYE
09-10-2010, 12:05 AM
We like to construct simple cause-and-effect stories to explain the world as we experience it. “You need to train in this way of thinking. It’s not easy,” says John Allen Paulos, a Temple University mathematician.


And this right here is what almost everyone is guilty of on a daily basis and especially on internet message boards.

JASPER BEARDLY
09-10-2010, 02:13 AM
where do u find all these links

Prince Rai
09-10-2010, 04:13 PM
Great fucking post.

The way of thinking and the tools we use to comprehend what is going on is not always widely available because we are limited and already fed useless info with a faulty dna.

TheBoarzHeadBoy
09-10-2010, 04:48 PM
too bad global warming isnt man made... humans aren't shit compared to geology.

The sun is getting hotter, the earth is entering a warm patch again like we had during the middle ages. Global warming is a scam designed to make people rich and weaken America's economy. Its a conspiracy.

Gore's world:

http://climateaudit.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/thomps4.gif

Reality:
http://media.kusi.clickability.com/images/chart2.jpg

Prince Rai
09-10-2010, 04:51 PM
the underlying focus of the article is not global warming

TheBoarzHeadBoy
09-10-2010, 04:57 PM
the underlying focus of the article is not global warming

i know. I read it. I'm just making a point. But global warming illustrates the fact that statistics isn't evidence for anything unless you have A LOT of very accurate data. At best its a place to start looking, not something to defend your opinions.

Tecknowledgist
09-10-2010, 05:04 PM
too bad global warming isnt man made... humans aren't shit compared to geology.

The sun is getting hotter, the earth is entering a warm patch again like we had during the middle ages. Global warming is a scam designed to make people rich and weaken America's economy. Its a conspiracy.

Gore's world:

http://climateaudit.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/thomps4.gif

Reality:
http://media.kusi.clickability.com/images/chart2.jpg

A conspiracy aimed to do what? Make us take care of our planet more? Cut down CO2 emissions? Eat healthier? Switch to more energy-efficient methods of transportation?

If it's a conspiracy aimed to make people think and act in a more healthy and environmentally-minded manner, then I'm all for it.

TheBoarzHeadBoy
09-11-2010, 12:31 AM
So you know nothing about Cap and Trade or the Kyoto Protocol? How they're designed to severely burden American companies while doing almost nothing against major polluters like China? How they expect us to pay to clean up their country while they do nothing in return? How the real purpose is to make America unable to compete economically with the third world in an attempt to "level the playing field" as it were. It has nothing to do with the environment and a lot to do with money. You realize how much money Al Gore has in "Green" energy right?

You also realize that there isn't a cheap alternative to oil and gas that works as well. You can't just install hydroelectric dams wherever you feel like it without ruining the environment. You can't just build wind turbines on every street corner without killing a bazillion birds. You can't just cover everything in solar panels when they're expensive as shit and barely work. You can't just tap into geothermic power because you want to.

The point is this isn't how you save the environment. The people who were environmentalists in the past before it became vogue think this is crap and that its obviously a political stunt but they're effectively silenced by the Media.

Frank Sobotka
09-11-2010, 07:49 AM
Simple statistics do not provide all the answers, you need more information added besides it.

Prince Rai
09-11-2010, 10:59 AM
Simple statistics do not provide all the answers, you need more information added besides it.

simple grammar does not create a master piece essay either.

The main raison d'etre for this article is to explain that we only use a selected amount of data here and there to construe an argument which seems to be well founded.

The "more information" you requested is correct and should come in the form of looking at the wider data pool where the source info comes from. If you take the ocean of data, you can use rationality and experience and come to much better conclusions that even more well founded.

I think we all see a trend whereby people just believe anything that is fed to them and seems to have "facts" to back up the claims. But we also know that in order to understand a whole book, you cannot just read one punchline paragraph.

Peace

EAGLE EYE
09-16-2010, 06:14 PM
So you know nothing about Cap and Trade or the Kyoto Protocol? How they're designed to severely burden American companies while doing almost nothing against major polluters like China? How they expect us to pay to clean up their country while they do nothing in return? How the real purpose is to make America unable to compete economically with the third world in an attempt to "level the playing field" as it were. It has nothing to do with the environment and a lot to do with money. You realize how much money Al Gore has in "Green" energy right?

You also realize that there isn't a cheap alternative to oil and gas that works as well. You can't just install hydroelectric dams wherever you feel like it without ruining the environment. You can't just build wind turbines on every street corner without killing a bazillion birds. You can't just cover everything in solar panels when they're expensive as shit and barely work. You can't just tap into geothermic power because you want to.

The point is this isn't how you save the environment. The people who were environmentalists in the past before it became vogue think this is crap and that its obviously a political stunt but they're effectively silenced by the Media.


I could see this post maybe making sense in 2004 or 2005, but it's 2010 and you aren't taking into account the leaps and bounds of advances in solar panel industry, declining cost of production (which you can use the computer hardware industry as a good model for) plus what the nanotech era will do for solving energy, hunger, and education crises on a global scale. The conceptual framework was laid out back in the mid 80's and things are just starting to take off and will at a blinding pace.

Also China has shown that it has a vested interest in tackling it's pollution and clean energy dilemma, but with a population that size they will be moving at a snails pace for quite some time. However it being a communist state they can mandate household and business practices by force, not choice. Yet we all know their businesses love finding loop holes every single chance they get if it means increasing margins.

One more thing I wanted to mention was that private companies who specialize in the construction of windmill farms in the US are struggling with getting rid of the power they generate because the infrastructure to transport megawatts they generate DOES NOT EXIST. The US government may need to step up to the plate like they did for the construction of the interstate highway system.

These farms get voted down by all the property owners who say "not in my backyard" or city. You can't just build a couple out in the midwest and expect to make any impact on the country's energy dilemma. Most people despise the idea of eminent domain, but using it in this instance might be the only way to make some headway. I do believe more ocean turbines should be built.

Uncle Steezo
09-16-2010, 07:31 PM
basically... shut the fuck up boy.

statistics can be generated to paint any picture. but its just data. it takes a wise person to make that data into information.

DeeBlock
09-16-2010, 09:49 PM
This is an interesting article.
Rob, it would be easier to read if you put spaces between paragraphs.

Thanks.

EAGLE EYE
09-16-2010, 09:53 PM
^ same article, better formatting


https://thewere42.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/clive-thompson-on-why-we-should-learn-the-language-of%C2%A0data/ (https://thewere42.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/clive-thompson-on-why-we-should-learn-the-language-of%C2%A0data/)

DeeBlock
09-16-2010, 10:33 PM
I mean when you post it to wucorp, like you did in the first post in this thread, spaces should be added between the paragraphs for an easier read, if ya don't mind doing so.


But thanks for the link anyway, I've read it.

EAGLE EYE
09-16-2010, 10:48 PM
I usually do but must of felt lazy.